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Narratives of French Modernity

Themes, Forms and Metamorphoses- Essays in Honour of David Gascoigne


Edited By Lorna Milne and Mary Orr

Inspired by the work of their colleague David Gascoigne, a group of scholars from the UK and France examine in this book the narrative strategies of some of the most interesting and important French writers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Stretching chronologically from 1905 to 2005, the volume examines a wide variety of prose genres, from pornography to Bildungsroman to magic realism, as well as poetry. Michel Tournier figures in several of the contributions, emerging as something of a touchstone for many of the thematic preoccupations that are common throughout the period: values and authority, self and other, identity, spirituality, migration and exile, sexuality, the body, violence and war, and language. The authors also examine the flourishing of intertextuality, as well as the use of traditional forms, such as mythical structures and the ‘robinsonade’, to undermine authoritative ‘métarécits’. Probing these themes and forms, and their metamorphoses across 100 years, the essays demonstrate a striking degree of continuity, linking writers as different as Apollinaire and Houellebecq or Valéry and Fleutiaux, and highlight the difficulty of dividing the period neatly into chronologically ordered categories labelled ‘modern’ or ‘postmodern’.


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Susan Bainbrigge - ‘Terre d’asile, terre d’accueil’: Explorations of the Robinsonade in Pierre Mertens’s 'Terre d’asile' -215


Susan Bainbrigge ‘Terre d’asile, terre d’accueil’: Explorations of the Robinsonade in Pierre Mertens’s Terre d’asile As its title suggests, Terre d’asile by Pierre Mertens is a novel about asylum, both political and psychological. It was published in 1978, shortly after Mertens himself had returned from a two-year stint in Chile on human rights missions.1 He was not interested only in Chile but had also visited Portugal, Cyprus and Northern Ireland; and, closer to home, he had been interested in the experiences of immigrants coming to Belgium since the 1950s.2 In Terre d’asile the South American protagonist, Jaime Morales, takes refuge in Belgium from the Chilean regime under Pinochet, and the novel describes how he comes to terms with an alienating new environ- ment. With this context of displacement in mind, the starting point of this analysis is a comparison of Terre d’asile with the legacy of the ‘robinsonade’ in literature. I will consider to what extent the famous myth emerges in the text and, in the process, I aim to bring Mertens’s text to a wider audience. It is very much David Gascoigne’s research interest in Michel Tournier and myth that inspires this essay (in particular his research and teaching on Tournier’s Vendredi ou les limbes du pacifique, the very well-known rewrit- ing of Defoe’s story).3 The robinsonade myth is one that seems to have endured through waves of modernity and postmodernity, and loses none of its relevance in more recently published texts. If anything, questions of 1 The...

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